Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“What Are People For” by Judge Ponsor

Posted on February 28, 2012 by Toni

2006 Rosie D v Massachusetts

Judge Ponsor, who presided over Rosie D, offered praise for mental health advocates at the Children’s Mental Health Summit in Boston.  I quote him here:

A few weeks back Kate Dulit asked me for a title for these few remarks, and, on an impulse, I pinched the title from an essay by the naturalist Wendell Barry — the question “What Are People For?” I think I was drawn to the question because I wanted to try stepping back, to take a long view of the challenges faced by the people sitting in this room – advocates, clinicians, agency staff and others – and to applaud the incredibly hard, incredibly important work you do. As I tried to assemble what I was going to say, I began to fear that the title struck too grandiose a pose for my fifteen minutes of modest observations. I’ve had a tendency to make this kind of mistake in the past…

‘A solid majority of the adults who come before me in federal court as criminal defendants suffer from mental health disorders that can be easily traced to childhood.’

With that humiliating background, let me turn to my possibly over-blown question: What are people for? It seems to me that, while there may be some debate about many other justifications for human existence, one vital and obvious task we all bear, that we share with all living things, is to protect, nurture, and cherish the next generation – our own offspring as well as others’ children – and to give them the best start we can in their lives. By doing this we help to insure the continuation of our own species, and we give those who will succeed us the tools to build on what we’ve created, and, one selfishly hopes, the generosity to nurture us as we decline.

The evidence is strong that in the United States we are not doing this work very well, especially recently.


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